Parents meetings set on schools

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Wake County school officials announced Thursday that they will hold meetings to explain to parents how to select a school through the new student assignment plan.
The meetings will explain how the new plan that starts in the 2012-13 school year requires families to choose, based on their addresses, from a list of schools they'd like their children to attend.
In the old system, families were assigned to schools based on their addresses.
School officials have stressed the new controlled-choice plan will guarantee students can stay at their current schools next year.
Meetings have been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at St. Mark's United Methodist Preschool, 4801 Six Forks Road, Raleigh; 6:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at Durant Road Elementary School, 9901 Durant Road, Raleigh; 6:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at Knightdale Town Hall, 950 Steeple Square Court; and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at St. Matthew's Church, 1629 Bennett St., Raleigh.
A Spanish-only session will be held at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at St. Raphael Church, 5801 Falls of Neuse Road, Raleigh.
Groups interested in holding sessions are asked to call the system's Office of Family and Public Engagement at 919-431-7800.

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In the spotlight

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Regarding Burgetta Eplin Wheeler's Oct. 21 column ("Parents advocate together"):
Knightdale 100 holds a firm spotlight when we fail our children, and equally as important we hold the spotlight just as bright when our children and teachers succeed. Knightdale High School still has the lowest SATs in Wake County, and this is unacceptable. However, we celebrate our teachers and students because our SAT average is up 20 points, and our AP/Honors program is expanding.
K100 believes that academic rigor is on the rise in Knightdale because of principals like Nancy Allen at East Wake Middle School. She and her math team have doubled their Algebra I membership two years in a row with 92 percent-plus passing! There are other heroes like Hodge Road Elementary faculty and its principal, Debra Pearce. Year after year their students have high growth. When 65 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged and 40 percent are limited English proficient, the starting line becomes a burden and the race to the top is a much longer journey.
Knightdale's teachers and principals are passionate, smart, hard-working professionals who get little credit for their tireless efforts. Every bit of improvement is to their credit and K100 is grateful they let us hold the spotlight!
Shannon Hardy

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Wheeler: Parents advocate together

If I were much of a conspiracy theorist, I might contemplate the convergence of a strengthening unified voice for Knightdale schools and the Wake County school board's recent redistricting that splintered the town among three representatives.
That members of the Knightdale 100, a group of parent advocates for stronger Eastern Wake schools, don't agree on whether the split was good or bad just underscores that their agenda is not political. It's purposeful.
"Dividing Knightdale in three, that's 10 years of damage they've done to us," says Knightdale 100 member Shannon Hardy.

But fellow member Robin Woodlief disagrees: "As far as I'm concerned, if I've got three reps, I've got three reps I can go to on the board to talk about Knightdale."
Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen hopes Woodlief is right, but he fought the town's division to the bitter end. "I worry that that's three people who really don't have to listen to us," he says.
Getting people to listen was the point of Killen's convening the Knightdale 100 two years ago. The mayor of 11,000 residents - nearly double the number from 2000 - wanted to combat historically low test scores amid rising poverty in Eastern Wake schools.
He decided he needed parents committed to making county leaders see the needs and to helping other parents increase their expectations.
The resulting group is so diverse - blacks, whites; some wealthier than others; McCain supporters, strenuous Obama lovers; Eastern Wake natives, newcomers - that any consensus about direction is greeted with certainty.
Consensus No. 1 was that the group will never participate in the partisan politics that overtook last week's school board election.
"We realize that if this is something we can all agree upon, across all backgrounds and all economic levels, we have to go for it," says Hardy, a Knightdale mother of two and a teacher at Exploris Middle School in Raleigh. "Our motivation has never been to serve our own children. It really is about living in a neighborhood and a community that is a generous place to live."
What the Knightdale 100 are going for is more high-quality teachers - what they consider key to increasing student achievement in poorer schools - and higher-level programs that retain area students who currently choose magnets, charters or private schools.
To that end, credit the group with pushing this year for Knightdale High School and East Wake Middle to become part of the STEM network, a move that provided schools with advanced technology and teachers with new learning techniques that promote science, technology, engineering and math.
"Our schools, I can say with absolute certainty, are in a better place now than they were just three or four years ago," Killen says. "Parents are beginning to catch on as to what needs to be done, what they need to do to hold our schools accountable. And that's a direct reflection on what the Knightdale 100 has done."
The group - with Hardy, Woodlief, Catherine Dameron, Kathy Moghaddam, Pam Miles and Derrick Burr at its core - presents monthly forums to educate other parents about important topics. Last month, Sam Houston, president and CEO of the N.C. Science, Mathematics and Technology Education Center, explained the benefits of the STEM program.
A rising profile
Of all the places Cary-software empire SAS could have chosen to test-drive a new initiative to help schools understand how to use the company's teacher-efficacy data, SAS picked Knightdale.
"We scored this contract with SAS for a year, training all of our principals and teachers on how to use the EVAAS data," Hardy says. "That's powerful to know that this teacher did better with this group of kids than other teachers with similar groups of kids did in other parts of the state," especially given that high-quality teachers are the group's main goal.
The Knightdale 100's dedication has impressed Tim Simmons, vice president of communications for Wake Education Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to public school advocacy. He has seen many organized parent groups in the county come and go.
"I don't know whether they know how much people refer to the Knightdale 100," Simmons says. "The first step is for people to at least know you're out there, and people know them. The schools won't turn around if there's not groups like them slugging it out."
The next big battle for the Knightdale 100, the members and Simmons agree, is to get the community to expect more of its schools.
"Kids succeed when they have opportunities that better expose them to different concepts and when the expectation is that they're going to succeed," Simmons says. "If you're not seeing the success you want, opportunities and expectations are two logical places to start."
And expectations are free.
"I'm proud of all the children in my community who are going to Knightdale schools, who are playing sports and getting good grades and taking AP classes," Hardy says. "Those kids who take advantage of the opportunities in a place like Knightdale are going to be the ones who make all the difference in our world 20 years from now."
Wheeler: 919-829-4825

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Knightdale 100 Excellence in Teaching Award Winners (Knightdale Elementary School)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Knightdale Elementary School Third Grade Math Team
2010 - 2011 Student Proficiency in Mathematics Above District Levels
Chris McClellan, Shelia High (not pictured), Keith Ryan (not pictured)

Knightdale 100 Excellence in Teaching Award Winners (East Wake Middle School)

East Wake Middle School Algebra Team
2010 - 2011 Student Proficiency in Mathematics Above District Levels
Rebecca Raper, Kenneth Leary, Emily Hooks (not pictured)
Left to right

East Wake Middle School Seventh Grade Math Team
2010 - 2011 EVAAS Growth in Student Achievement Above State Levels
Laura ShuteKeauna Vinson, Pat Agoncillo (not pictured)
pictured from left to right

Knightdale 100 Excellence in Teaching Award Winners (Forestville Road Elementary)

Forestville Road Elementary School Fourth Grade Math Team 
2010 - 2011 Student Proficiency in Mathematics Above District Levels
Mary McNall, Sarah Starkey, MacKenzie Hopkins, Malinda Rader, Dawn Swiger, Beth Edmonds (not pictured)
From left to right

Knightdale 100 Excellence in Teaching Award Winners (Lockhart Elementary)

Lockhart Elementary School Third Grade Math Team
2010 - 2011 Student Proficiency in Mathematics Above District Levels
Tammy Reid, Kellarie Buff, Laura Rubish (from left to right)
Sarah Brokaw, Lindsey Noulles, Candice Hudson (not pictured)

Knightdale 100 Excellence in Teaching Award Winners (Lake Myra)

Lake Myra Elementary School Third Grade Math Team
2010 - 2011 Student Proficiency in Mathematics Above District Levels
Amber SmithSherry Strutz, Katherine DeSarno, Jena Kehler (not pictured)
Pictured from left to right 

Knightdale 100 Excellence in Teaching Award Winners (Knightdale High)

Knightdale High School Biology Team
2010 - 2011 EVAAS Growth in Student Achievement Above State Levels
Airess Eatmon, Rhonda Rhodes (not pictured), Sally Combs (not pictured)
Knightdale High School Physical Science Team
2010 - 2011 EVAAS Growth in Student Achievement Above State Levels
Airess Eatmon, Laura Hoffman, Jeff Deal  (from left to right)

Wheeler: Eastern Wake ignored in school politics

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Cross the Neuse River anywhere east of Raleigh in Wake County, and you've entered the land of the ignored when it comes to school-board politics.
While leaders and residents of all stripes in the rest of the county argued for two years over "neighborhood schools" and what that might mean for poverty rates in downtown Raleigh schools - culminating in the school board chairman's loss in the election Tuesday - the nearly neighborhood schools in Eastern Wake just quietly got poorer.
"Hodge Road Elementary was 70 percent poor under the old board, and 70 percent under the new one," says Shannon Hardy, a Knightdale mother of two and teacher at Exploris Charter School. "School assignment is not the solution.
If you've heard any Eastern Wake murmurs at all, it's likely because of Hardy and the rest of the Knightdale 100. This parent-advocate group, birthed in 2009 by Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen, isn't caught up in the partisanship that pervaded Tuesday's vote. Members can barely tell you, in fact, which school board representative covers what part of the town now that Knightdale has been split among three districts.
No amount of school choice, which the assignment model now on the table touts, is going to change the reality that well more than 50 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches in all but two of the schools in the historically rural area. In such a large swath of the county, only a diversity of housing can alter that number.
So rather than focus on politics and percentages, the Knightdale 100 have their sights on programs and perceptions.
"We realized my child's success relies on the success of all the children," Hardy says. "If you have money, you just buy a house in a rich neighborhood, but if you're just hard-working middle-class or single parents, your child's success in the classroom depends on all the other kids in the classroom."
What the group seeks are higher expectations for poorer students from parents and teachers. High-quality teaching, the members say, is what leads to student achievement.
Opting out of schools
They also want - and have snared - new programs they hope will attract families and keep the town's higher-achieving students from opting out. Two years ago, 400 Knightdale-area high schoolers were in private, charter or magnet schools.
"So many times we're focused on low-performing kids, and getting them up to level is important, but you can't do that to the exclusion of high-performing students," Killen says, adding that new Wake schools Superintendent Tony Tata completely gets that.
"Tata has done more and given more attention to this issue since he's been here than anybody the entire time I've been working on this, for at least seven or eight years," Killen says. "He sees it, and he wants to make it better."
The program equity that the group seeks would include more AP classes at Knightdale High - and some acknowledgment that Hodge Road Elementary needs help.
"Why is Spanish being taught to students in Cary, but the non-Spanish-speaking students at Hodge Road Elementary, which is more than 50 percent Hispanic, don't get any Spanish lessons?" Hardy asks. "Why isn't this a bilingual school?"
Plans killed by economy
Before a bypass opened in 2005, a continuously clogged U.S. 64 hindered higher-end development in Eastern Wake. The bypass brought bigger subdivisions to the drawing board - several, unfortunately, stayed there when the economy went bust.
The planned Wendell Falls, with its 4,000 houses on 1,400 acres, even had its own exit off the bypass. Those houses would have finally helped naturally diversify a town where 75 percent of the housing is considered affordable. The project is in bankruptcy.
In Knightdale, the Langston Ridge development sits off Hodge Road with its roads paved and its street lights on, illuminating acres of weeds and trash, but not one house.
More than 200 homes costing in the $200,000s to $400,000s were planned.
"Until we have more high-end housing, you just can't assign around that," says Killen, who decided that the only answer in the meantime was to find parents willing to improve the schools, which routinely have some of the county's lowest test scores, a priority.
Robin Woodlief, who grew up in Wendell and has two children in Eastern Wake schools, is one of several passionate parents who attended early organizational meetings and answered the call.
"The demographics are what they are," she says. "I think in the past there's been a mentality if you were poor, you weren't smart and you couldn't do the work.
"It takes awhile to get over that and convince the kids as well as the parents that just because you don't have any money doesn't mean you don't have a brain up there."
One way the Knightdale 100 are trying to reach the area's parents is with forums; for instance, one this year touted the importance of taking algebra in eighth grade and another explained how best to measure teacher performance.
"I think that our parents in Knightdale want to do the hard work as parents, they just don't know how," Hardy says. "Further, our teachers are well-intentioned, but they under-challenge our children. It is hard for a teacher to know how hard to push when the parents have not gone to college or don't naturally push the child themselves."
An area at a crossroads
It's clear that Eastern Wake County is at a crossroads. Although there are always exceptions, Tim Simmons of the Wake Education Partnership says research shows that 60 percent poor is the point at which a school starts losing families with the means to leave.
East Wake Academy, a charter school in Zebulon, already has 1,100 students and 600 waiting to get in.
Without more higher-end housing in Eastern Wake, the regular schools will keep edging closer to tipping. And the self-perpetuating cycle is that the poorer the schools become, the less likely that developers will build near them.
"The geography of Eastern Wake and the economy have not been kind," Simmons says.
"You can roll over or you can do whatever is possible to get those schools into a position of being a viable option. If you can attract one group, then you can attract another."
If the Knightdale 100 can hold the line - and even improve school quality - until the economy improves, development will take care of itself, he says, citing the Northern Virginia schools that are good only because people moved there to be close to D.C., and demanded better schools.
"It's really common for parent groups to get involved because kids can't get into AP classes or whatever, and once they accomplish that, they're done," Simmons says. "This group, it's pretty clear they are in it for the long haul."
Yes, they are. And that's partly because they love the area's diversity and the small-town feel that still permeates the ball fields and restaurants.
"Around here, we always have the most diverse soccer team, the most diverse summer swim teams. That's Americana, the spirit of America, pluralism," Hardy says. "You don't ask what you can do for your kid. You ask what you can do for your school system, what you can do to support your neighbor's kid in their bad times."
During the school assignment debate, many people said they were willing to spend more on better teachers and programs at schools that started struggling. Your Eastern Wake neighbors have been struggling for a while now.
Maybe we should help the Knightdale 100 stabilize a teetering quarter of the county until the housing market stirs again. If we let these schools languish, development is far less likely to arrive.
So far, the Knightdale 100 have been paying for their progress mostly from their own pockets, although Woodlief is working to get the group nonprofit status.
She doesn't want to think about how much money - not to mention hours - she has given to the cause.
"If we can turn it around and get good things to happen, it's worth it," she says. "My parents always told me you can preach to your children all day long, but unless they see you do it, it doesn't mean anything.
"I'm teaching my children that if they get involved in the community, they can make a difference."
Next week: The group's accomplishments - including STEM schools in Eastern Wake - and praise. or 929-829-4825

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